The Food Safety Modernization Act has deadlines approaching that will affect the way wholesalers and distributors do business. It’s a fact that the industry is facing everywhere.
Several Hunts Point companies have proactively invested in the audits and costly changes to earn top safety certifications, but there’s so much more that needs to be done and clarified, they say.
“We all know the industry is changing, and FSMA is knocking on our door. Nobody is quite clear at what level the market has to operate,” Fierman said.
Digital tech helps companies with the increasing need for traceability.
“Traceability is a must. Everything is 100% traceable all the way down to the box. It makes it convenient for customers picking up, and our guys loading, and for shippers. If they have a problem, they can locate it,” said Nick Armata, assistant buyer of western vegetables for his family’s company, E. Armata.
While giving a tour, he walked by a Halo Synergetic ultraviolet light perched on a wall. It can detect bacteria. Earlier, he pointed to an RF-Smart gun that scans barcodes to transfer product information, quantities and location information directly into the warehouse management system through wireless networking. QR code stickers on metal beams divide each product load in the warehouse.
Companies are using software like Produce Pro to manage warehouse inventory, tracing an item a customer received to the truck, the warehouse rack and box where it sat. Other technology maintains temperature and humidity zones.
“All the items are located exactly where they should be, at different temperatures and humidity. They have to be taken care of constantly,” Armata said.
GPS programs track produce trucks and note problems along the way, to troubleshoot as fast and efficiently as possible.
The type of food the modern consumer wants is changing too, becoming more and more diverse as palates grow more sophisticated and globally minded.
“High-end restaurants, hotels, high-end supermarkets, they’re all using this stuff. It’s high interest now. Even middle-class supermarkets are getting involved,” said Alfie Badalamenti, vice president of Coosemans New York Inc. and a buyer.
People are always looking for something different, said Ray Hernandez, head buyer at Coosemans.
“People like variety, and that’s what we try to bring to the market,” Hernandez said.
They want the package to shout its sustainable, traceable, organic practices.
In response, many businesses are increasing their organics offerings, including Fierman Produce Exchange, E. Armata and D’Arrigo, “and with organics, you want it to be separate,” said Eric Mitchnick, director of the specialty division and new business development at E. Armata.
The company, which redesigned its website in 2018, bought more units and knocked down walls to make different cooling rooms and provide a clear walking path for customers to inspect product.
Last summer, Gabriella D’Arrigo, vice president of marketing and communications at D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc., led a streamlining revamp of the company and enclosed the sales desks into a temperature-controlled sales room. She’s working on expanding the organic line and supplying meal-kit delivery companies and local high-end restaurants.
Like anyone who’s had a computer crash knows, sometimes the technology added for convenience and efficiency works against itself, adding headaches.
“In our effort to be so digitally calibrated, it eliminates flexibility,” Fierman said.
For example, the calendars for retail market advertisements don’t adjust to unexpected weather conditions or other last-minute challenges that require adjustments to schedules, load volumes and prices.